Scenes From a Misunderstood Life (Part 1)

Scene: A 3-storey Victorian terraced house in Lancaster, in the North West of England, looking towards Lancaster Castle and with the hills of the Lake District visible in the distance to the North.

lancaster-castle

Lancaster Castle with the Lake District behind

Our hero (why not?), balding, slim, spectacled (Aldi £2.49) sits at a pineish dining table in the living room, fingers poised over a tiny netbook. Sitting on an old Ikea bentwood chair to the side of him is the interviewer. Taking a notebook and pen from a large and serious-looking leather bag the interviewer turns towards our hero and says:

Interviewer: So, tell me Kevin, what are you reading at the moment?

Our Hero: (turning and removing spectacles) Well, Michael, I’ve just finished reading …..

Interviewer: Let me stop you there, Kevin. You just called me Michael.

OH: That’s right, Michael.

I: But my name isn’t Michael.

OH: (Puzzled) Sorry. I thought all interviewers were called Michael.

I: Not this one.

OH: So what is your name? Continue reading

1977 – Baltimore, Randy Newman

In the late 70s I was rhythm guitarist in a band called Dilettante. I had been playing with a more RnB type band called A.K.A. Bats and was approached by two musicians, Dave Paillow and Mike Bannon, to see if was interested.

The band didn’t have a name then but we sat and talked about what their influences were. Mike was very keen on Captain Beefheart and dub reggae which immediately made me interested. Although I was enjoying playing with A.K.A. Bats and we had done some good gigs, including headlining at the Kulture Shock event in the Great Hall at Lancaster University, the music we were playing wasn’t really the sort of stuff I wanted to do. The band was popular and a lot of the material was good for dancing, but I really wanted to be involved in something more experimental.

This was around the end of the first wave of punk and a lot of the music I was listening to, apart from old favourites like Bowie, Zappa, and Genesis (alright, we all have our weakness, but only Peter Gabriel Genesis, not the Phil Collins stuff), was punk (Sex Pistols, X-Ray Specs) and post-punk (XTC, Magazine). Plus I was getting in to some of the new US bands, particularly Patti Smith whose ‘Horses’ album had really made an impression. And of course there was always Beefheart.

So I quit A.K.A. Bats and joined the newly named Dilettante. We started rehearsing at what was the Musician’s Co-op rehearsal room upstairs from Single Step. It’s now the Whale Tail cafe but then it was just a big, bare room with no heating, no carpets and bare stone walls. I’ve tried to find a photo of it as it was then but no luck. If anyone has any photos from the time I’d be most grateful. Continue reading

1972 – Lou Reed, Lou Reed

Lancaster in the 70s was very different from how it is now – less alternative, fewer students, more traditional. But it had one thing we don’t have now, a really good indoor market. And in the market was the best record shop around, Ear Ere. 4426480

That’s where I bought my copy of Lou Reed. As far as I can remember Ear Ere was originally up on the balcony overlooking the market. You could go in and browse the albums, listen on headphones, and buy whatever you wanted – and I wanted all of them!

Lour72

This is when Christine and I lived on Havelock Street, before we moved to Golgotha Village. I can’t remember if it was before or after Matthew was born, but it was definitely around the time. So I took it home and listened to it…….. and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t like the Velvet Underground stuff and felt as though he didn’t really know where he was going without the band. And he had a strange assortment of backing musicians (Steve Howe! Rick Wakeman!). Not exactly cutting edge rock musicians. So I took it back, told them I didn’t like it, and they let me take something else. They were great like that at Ear Ere. I can’t remember what I swapped it for. Continue reading

1969 – What We Did on Our Holidays, Fairport Convention

*DISCLAIMER – all of the following is based on my admittedly faulty memory. To repeat the saying, ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!’

In the late sixties Steve had gone from group manager (The Mind Machine, which I will write about at some point), to light show creator. He has always been a creative whirlwind and if this was a superhero comic he would be the mad professor and I would be the trusty sidekick. Light shows seem to have come into being independently both in Britain and the United States. Pink Floyd were, as far as I know, the first British band to use a light show and, in America, bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were employing lights at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco (somebody correct me if I’m wrong).

Anyway, Steve had started playing around with various lighting effects in The Cellar, using an old slide projector. He had added a motorised drive so that when a circular slide was placed in front of the light source the motored rotated it causing the effect to change.  The main ones I remember were:1969 - What We Did on Our Holidays, Fairport Convention

  • circular slides filled with coloured oils – as the slide rotated the blobs of oil moved around causing a constantly changing pattern of coloured blobsf5089-diffractiongrating
  • Sheets of diffraction grating

1969 - What We Did on Our Holidays, Fairport Convention

  • two circular pieces of polarised glass with strips of sellotape between them

Continue reading

1969 – Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart

Dive Three – Drunk in charge of a masterpiece?

In 1969 I was working for Storey’s of Lancaster, a firm which manufactured wall coverings (anyone remember Contact and Decorene?). I had started working in the bonus office with the intention being that I would study to become a Work Study Engineer; these are the people who stand around with stopwatches measuring how long it takes you to complete a particular job so that they can tell you how to do it more efficiently. Anyway, I didn’t do the training; it involved going off to Nottingham University for a week and, as I had never been away from home on my own for that length of time and I was of a rather nervous and shy disposition, I told my boss I didn’t want to go. So I ended up staying on as a bonus clerk, working out the weekly bonuses for the people who worked in the factory.

It was just before Christmas 1969 and we’d had a Christmas party at work where I managed to get fairly drunk. The rest of the group were going into Lancaster to carry on drinking so I cadged a lift with them and wandered off into town looking for something to buy with my Christmas bonus. I’m not sure how much it was but it probably came to about £10 or so. At this time I had three great loves in my life – girls, books and music – so I headed for the local record shop. I can’t remember the name of it but it was upstairs somewhere around where WH Smiths is now and you could listen to records in booths before buying them. Well, one thing I’ve always liked is something different and when I came across a copy of Trout Mask Replica I had to hear it! Who could resist?? Remember I was fairly drunk and looking to spend my money so I took it to the counter and asked to listen. I probably got some strange looks from the person behind the counter but, as I had had a few drinks, I didn’t notice, just straight into the booth and waited for them to put the record on. One thing I don’t like about CDs is that you don’t get that sense of excitement when the stylus hits the record and there’s a few seconds of slightly crackly silence before the music starts. Well the music started (Frownland) and I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. I wanted to love it, it was Beefheart and the cover was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I probably listened for about 10 minutes and decided that, though I didn’t love it then, after I’d played it a few times it would all make sense. Continue reading

1974 – Sweet Thing, David Bowie

Second Dive – ‘When it’s good, it’s really good’
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond_Dogs 

In the mid to late seventies I was married to my first wife and living in a tiny little cottage at the top of a hill in Lancaster, an area called Golgotha Village.

gol_street

Golgotha Village. The tiny house towards the right was ours

I was going through a tough time; anxiety, panic attacks, drinking too much (far too much). There was a pub in Lancaster called The Farmer’s Arms run by a couple called Eddie and Peggy where the local misfits, tokers and bikers used to congregate and I spent a lot of time there. My habit was to drink too much, smoke too much then sit at home listening to music, usually on headphones as the house was so small that it was impossible to listen over speakers without bringing the neighbours knocking on the door and complaining. I’ve just remembered that I had my stereo housed in an old upright 78rpm cabinet, with the record deck where the 78 deck would have been and the amplifier and tuner etc. in the bit below where the doors are. I thought it was really cool as, when it was all closed up it just looked like an antique record cabinet.

Anyway, one of the albums I listened to constantly was Diamond Dogs and, in particular, the track ‘Sweet Thing’. It seemed to echo the way I was feeling much of the time.
We had a friend called Dave (Devo) who visited us regularly on his Triumph Bonneville to help us roll cigarettes and listen to music. One day we were listening to ‘Sweet Thing’ when he suddenly said;
“The lyrics are wrong, it’s not ‘When it’s good it’s really good and when it’s bad I go to pieces’, it’s ‘When it’s good it’s really good and when it’s bad I go to’t Farmer’s’.
Not a great joke in itself but what he was really commenting on was the fact that I was pretty much falling to pieces and that alcohol was the way I was dealing with my breakdown. Not longer after this my wife divorced me; thank god she didn’t stay around for more misery and heartbreak. I lost touch with Devo and wonder what he’s up to now; whether he’s still riding around on his beloved Bonneville or, like the rest of us, settled down and become normal.
I still listen to Diamond Dogs occasionally and still think it’s one of Bowie’s better albums. Sweet Thing is still a great track but I’m not going to pieces now and haven’t been in the Farmer’s Arms for probably thirty years.
I wonder what happened to the 78 cabinet. It might be worth a bit of money now.